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History and Heritage

Katrina: 10 Years Later

Relief efforts through the eyes of the Skipper

On the 29th of August 2005, having ravaged South Florida on its way through the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States, leaving a wake of massive destruction and devastation of Biblical proportions across an area reaching from the western panhandle of Florida to Louisiana.

Editor's note:

It's been a decade since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. Follow along the relief efforts with a one of a kind perspective through the eyes of Capt. Richard Callas (USN, Ret.) commanding officer of the USS Iwo Jima in 2005. The following pages began as a husband writing home to his spouse but have since transformed into a historical account of the Navy's contributions during the relief efforts.


Going Ashore after Katrina


Sunday, 4 September - It is after midnight and I finally have a chance to catch my breath and drop you a note. I did go ashore today with about 150 Sailors to support two clean up efforts: a local High School that was being used as a shelter for 500-1200 people and a church that was completely devastated. I worked on the church project with about 120 Sailors. The area was hit hard. Everything made by man was swept away a couple hundred yards from the beach. Only the trees, thick majestic southern oaks, stood the trial despite having their branches ravaged. The church was gone. We spent several hours just clearing the wreckage away and piling it along the side. It was like an archeological dig in that we recovered bits of glass, broken china (and quite a few pieces that were intact), toys, a Bible, broken lamps. The church had an open air mass with some 150 parishioners that morning standing in among all the wreckage. We cleared the wreckage, but carefully stacked all the keepsakes, whether broken or whole, all around the make-shift altar. I found a picture of a baby, mostly deteriorated, that must have been on someone's desk. We thought the saved keepsakes will have some emotional value to the owners. It was hot, nasty, and dirty work, but everyone was inspired to do their part, and I was glad, even blessed, to have the opportunity to do this with my Sailors.
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We were bombarded with press. Our arrival was the fi rst real contingent of Navy personnel ashore (though the beachmasters had gone ashore late the previous evening and set up their camp on the beach), so we got a lot of press coverage. Quite a few people drove by and took pictures of us. Surprisingly (and ironically, too) there was a granite memorial to those that died during Hurricane Camile in front of the church. We cleaned that up too and tried to put the heavy granite pieces back together.

I picked the wrong week to give up smoking"


The whole area was pretty hard hit. The neighborhood behind the church was all wrecked, the massive piles of debris in the street pushed in place by bulldozers. While we were working on the site, part of a 4-5 story apartment building came crashing down a few hundred yards away from us. I met the owner of the home next to the church. His property was completely gone, just massive debris. He appeared resigned, but obviously was inspired to rebuild. He had a restaurant in town that had suffered too but was repairable. I promised to come back in a few years and eat at his place. We finished up around sunset and sailed back to the ship on the LCAC. But before we left, I got the word that VADM Fitzgerald wants IWO to sail up the might Mississippi to act as the command and control center for all DoD operations in LA...Joint Task Force Katrina. We expect to have one Admiral (RADM Bookert) one three star general (my old boss from the Joint Staff - Russell Honore), two commodores, and countless (numbering in the hundreds) staffers, plus helos and a bunch of other things. So as I write, we are racing down to the entrance of the River at 24 knots in order to fly on Admiral Bookert and his staffers at first light and before we hit the pilot pick up point and start our 8 hour transit up the Mississippi.

Despite all the frustrations - we are getting tortured hourly by stupid staff taskers - we are holding things together. Everyone is safe and in good spirits. I just need to get us safely up the Mississippi to New Orleans.

"I picked the wrong week to give up smoking"

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